“Clear conscience” is the latest catchphrase of our top government officials and pro-establishment politicians.
In recent years, whenever high-ranking officials, pro-Beijing lawmakers, members of the university governing boards and even former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen came under fire for negligence, wrong decisions or even criminal charges, all they would say is “I have a clear conscience”.
The phrase has been used so frequently that it has become a cliché.
As a matter of fact, civil servants, lawmakers and everyone who holds public office are all supposed to act according to their conscience at all times and with the public’s best interest at heart, because they are getting paid in taxpayer money and being entrusted with public power to make policies and decisions on our behalf.
Having said that, I don’t see any reason why they should always stress they have a clear conscience.
Perhaps the only reason for them to say so is because they were actually acting against their conscience, and therefore they had to repeat that phrase time and time again in order to make themselves feel less guilty.
Simply put, the words “I have a clear conscience” have increasingly become meaningless.
Last week, in her speech responding to the pan-democrats’ motion to invoke the Legislative Council’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance to conduct an inquiry into the recent lead contamination scandal in several public housing estates, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor slammed district councilors and some residents for publicly humiliating officials who were making on-site visits by forcing them to drink lead-contaminated water in front of the crowd to prove that the water was safe.
She vowed that she wouldn’t allow her staff to suffer such a humiliation again and said she had issued internal guidelines ordering civil servants not to succumb under any circumstances, so as to preserve the dignity of the administration.
Her words immediately drew public fire, and many were simply stunned by her unabashed arrogance and her complete disdain for public criticism and the well-being of the average individual affected by the contamination scandal.
In fact I have repeatedly pointed out that our chief secretary’s obsession with power, her inflated ego and her lack of respect for the opinion of the people have taken their toll on the governance of our city.
All that her obstinacy and stubbornness can do is further undermine the already low popularity and credibility of the administration.
It is exactly that kind of condescension and arrogance typical of a bureaucrat that is making her increasingly thin-skinned when facing public criticism.
As a public servant, shouldn’t our chief secretary be more humble and not let her ego take over when it comes to issues that are affecting tens of thousands of citizens?
Shouldn’t she hold her subordinates accountable for the mistakes they have made rather than looking for excuses to shield them?
Why would she embrace the notion that reprimanding and disciplining officials for their negligence would undermine the authority and dignity of the government?
Besides, a government can only earn its dignity bit by bit, through hard work and sincerity, rather than through intimidation, cockiness, abuse of power and white terror.
There is absolutely no way an administration can earn its dignity and public respect if it continues to turn a blind eye to the rightful demands of its people and act against the interest of society.
Lam appeared to have forgotten that she is a civil servant who is supposed to listen to the public and exchange opinions with them on an equal footing, rather than an imperial commissioner to whom everyone has to kowtow, and that everyone in this city is a modern citizen entitled to a complete set of civil rights that cover every major aspect of life, rather than loyal subjects as in ancient times.
How could a cocky bureaucrat like her who is not able to tell right from wrong and totally confuses receptiveness with weakness still claim she has a clear conscience?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 19.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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